A couple of weeks ago I presented a paper at the Third Discover Academic Research Training and Support Conference at Dartington Hall. For a full review of the two days see Laura Molloy’s JISC MRD Evidence Gathering blog. Our paper was entitled “Creating and Maintaining a Sustainable Research Data Management Service: Where Do Librarians Fit?” and the slides are available on our website.

In addition to my paper, it was interesting to listen to the other papers and also to speak to other delegates. It is easy to sit in a research data management (RDM) bubble and think that everyone knows about RDM issues. However, in speaking to a number of delegates it soon became clear that for most of them, RDM did not sit high up on their agendas (if indeed it sat there at all). Those of us working on RDM on a daily basis must remember that not everybody is and any sustainable solution needs to take this into account.

As I was speaking just after lunch we decided that rather than having to listen to me droning on for an hour we would include an interactive element. We decided to produce a questionnaire on research data management training. Following on from our DAF survey a quick analysis of the answers to the questionnaire has proved very informative.

We asked in our DAF survey which areas related to RDM researchers would like training in. There were a total of 284 respondents and the answers were as follows (respondents could give more than one answer):

Training Area


How to Develop a Data Management Plan


Organising Research Material


File and Document Management


Legal and Ethical Issues


Bibliographic Software


Institutional Repositories and Open Access


In our DARTS3 questionnaire we asked in which of the above fields the delegates would feel comfortable teaching. The results are below (although there were c50 delegates we only have the results from the 33 questionnaires collected by us on the day):

In which of these would you feel comfortable training researchers?

Not Comfortable at all



How to Develop a Data Management Plan




Organising Research Material




File and Document Management




Legal and Ethical Issues




Bibliographic Software




Institutional Repositories and Open Access




As can be seen, there is a definite need to “train the trainers” on RDM issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the delegates present at the conference felt much more comfortable teaching on Bibliographic Software and Open Access than the other topics. However, the results of our survey show that training on Bibliographic Software is the least required by researchers (although this could be because it is already provided at Exeter). If we are expecting that librarians, or related staff, are to lead workshops, training sessions etc. on RDM issues in the future then they need to feel comfortable on the topic before they can teach. The knowledge to teach cannot be passed without effort and at Exeter we have started to train librarians and support staff: we are running a segment we are calling “The Holistic Librarian” with one of our subject librarians and members of the DCC recently ran a half day training session for our Subject Librarians, IT staff and Research and Knowledge Transfer staff.

This is, of course, an ongoing process and we will continue to “train the trainers” throughout the lifetime of the project.

Posted under Follow the Data, Holistic Librarian, Online survey, Reports, Training

This post was written by Gareth Cole on July 11, 2012

Data: An Engineer’s Perspective

This month has been a month of thesis writing. As a disciple of engineering, I have not really considered the output of my hours of writing, producing an accessible front end to my research, as data. However, I am told that it is. Personally, I see data as the pages and pages of numbers produced either through physical experimentation or through a computer program; in a format that generally means nothing to anyone apart from its creator. You could extend this definition to describe the figures, graphs etc. that you derive from these pages of nonsense. But what about the findings, the conclusions, the evaluation…is that also data? Well, I suppose they are. Without these how does anyone know what your data has been used for, or its relevance to current research?

But then you have to also consider the framing: The metadata. How did you get your results? What assumptions did you make? What formulas did you use? All of these give validity to your data and provide valuable information and a platform for its future use. Without this platform, the data is arguably worthless to anyone else.

In the past these thoughts about data have been insignificant to me. But now that I am a PG researcher, I have a responsibility to store and share my data on a professional level. The Open Exeter project has helped me to think about data; how I define it, store it, save it, protect it and, in the end, share it. This level of consideration is being demanded by funding bodies and institutions nationally, who expect that the resultant output of taxpayers money is available to all. And as professionals, it is our duty to meet these expectations. And don’t forget, it benefits us in the long run by providing a whole new platform for developing new research using the data provided by others as a platform…without all the red tape.

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Stuart Atkinson on May 24, 2012

Congratulations Elif, our Kindle winner!

We would like to thank everyone who participated in our online research data management survey and announce that Elif Gozler, a PhD student in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, was the lucky winner of the Kindle in our prize draw.

Elif was randomly picked from the nearly 300 participants in our research data management survey and was presented the prize today by Afzal Hasan, Subject Librarian for the IAIS and Politics, and Open Exeter’s Holistic Librarian. Elif also enjoyed a cream team with the Open Exeter team.

Congratulations Elif!


Posted under Advocacy and Governance, Follow the Data, Holistic Librarian, News, Online survey

This post was written by Hannah Lloyd-Jones on May 24, 2012

Encryption and synching

As is common for researchers dealing with human research subjects, security of sensitive data is one of my main concerns. While developing my data management plan, it became clear that I would need to encrypt my data storage devices, including my computer and backup external hard drive.
Encryption, put simply, is the conversion of data into a format that requires a key in order to be decyphered. If you lose your laptop, external hard drive or USB key, it would at least make it very hard for the person that finds it to access your data in an intelligible format.
I have been making enquiries about encryption solutions, and found out that the university’s IT department uses Truecrypt, which is a free open-source software compatible with various operating systems, including Windows 7, Vista, XP and Mac OS X. More information and guidelines on Truecrypt, offered by the University of Exeter’s IT department, can be found at:

It is to be noted that, if you use a university loaned laptop, you may have to request approval prior to encrypting the device. Laptops on loan are not necessarily encrypted, but I was informed that this may change in the future. Very importantly, make sure to remember and keep your key safely!
Another concern of mine is to ensure the data temporarily stored on my iPad – which I use as a data collection tool (notes, audio, fieldwork photos) – would be secured. General opinion seems to be that an iPad is password protected and therefore relatively secured; I would be interested to hear what others think about this. I have also noticed an option to wipe out the data on an iPad/iPhone should the authentication attempts fail 10 times in a row.
I am also currently wondering about the safety of cloud storages such as Dropbox and iCloud. I have been assured by an IT technician who read a lot about Dropbox that it can be considered as safe. I do not have a problem with putting my own documents in there… But what about sensitive research data? I would be interested to know what others make of cloud storage.

I am a bit of a research data hoarder. I am so scared of losing my preciously gathered data that I tend to save it everywhere, with different backups. It is great if your devices are properly protected, unless, like me, you perpetually have to update manually your documents stored in multiple locations. Aside from the time-consuming nature of this process, I have experienced a few instances in the past of missing out on updating a backup file, and thus losing track of the most up to date version of my document. With my current project, I have decided to investigate ways of automating the synching process, to make sure my files are saved and backed-up, saving me time and avoiding missing updates. There is a simple solution that has been discussed by another member of the Open Exeter project in his private blog, which is Synchtoy. This same free software solution was also recommended by a technician from the University’s IT department. All I need to do now is go on a data/folder cleaning spree, plan out properly my storage destinations and process and get the synching going. It will take a bit of time, but as with many things, investing the energy now might save me much more in the future.

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Annie Blanchette on May 23, 2012

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Gadgets for Research: Tech Review

The Open Exeter project team recently introduced us PGRs to an interesting gadget that might start appearing on researchers’ wish lists. It’s called the Livescribe Echo Smartpen and I’ve been given one to test drive for a few weeks.

It’s really a very simple concept; whatever you write with the smartpen is converted to typed text. Sounds perfect for fieldwork when it might be difficult to carry a laptop with you. All you do is make fairly legible handwritten notes in a standard-sized notebook, which comes with the pen. This is then stored on the pen and can be downloaded and converted to text on your computer later. You can even record audio notes on the pen to go along with what you’re writing.
I’ve been using the pen for the past few days, which has meant I can work outside and take advantage of the great weather. The verdict so far is 10/10. It’s not much bigger than a standard pen but this amazing gadget can hold pages of handwritten notes for conversion to text later and copes remarkably well with my less-than-ideal handwriting.

All in all, the Echo Smartpen is a convenient way of creating research data such as field notes, which could save researchers a considerable amount of time and effort especially if they need to digitise their notes for archiving. However, at around £100 it might not be the top priority for researchers with a limited expenses budget.

Check back later for more Gadgets for Research blog posts including a review of dictation software and iPad apps.

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Philip Dennis Bremner on May 23, 2012


Discuss Debate Disseminate

The Open Exeter project is pleased to invite all UoE researchers to Discuss Debate Disseminate: A discussion of the issues around the management of your research materials and data and an opportunity to network with other researchers. PhD students and early career researchers from all disciplines welcome.

The event will take place on 22nd June 09:00 – 12:30 in the Upper Lounge of Reed Hall on the Streatham campus.


09:00 – 09:15: Arrival coffee/tea

09:15 – 09:30: Welcome

09:30 – 10:30: Session 1: Delete, Keep or Share?: Each researcher brings one example of research material or data (this could be, for example, in electronic or paper format).  In groups you will describe your research material or data briefly before discussing whether you would delete it, keep it, or share it, and why.

10:30-10:45: Coffee/tea break

10:45-11:30: Session 2: “Speed data dating”: Meet and get to know other researchers and the issues that they face with their research materials. Are there any common problems or solutions?

11:30-12:15: Session 3: PhD student panel session: Open Exeter PhD student answer your research materials management questions.

12:15-12:30: Feedback and Close

Please register for the event via email to 

For event details see: https://www.facebook.com/events/407590612590904/

Posted under Advocacy and Governance, Follow the Data, News, Research, Training

This post was written by Hannah Lloyd-Jones on May 15, 2012

Online survey closed

As we have blogged previously we launched an online survey as part of our research into how research data is managed at Exeter. This has now closed and we are delighted with the number of respondents: 284 in total.

Encouragingly we have had a large number of responses from all of the academic colleges at Exeter so this will enable our conclusions to be as inclusive as possible. Additionally, only 45% of our respondents were PGR students and nearly 10% were professors. Covering the full spectrum of researchers will also enable us to focus our outputs.

Very initial analysis of the survey has thrown up a number of headline results which will affect how we progress on the project:

  1. Over half the respondents stated that they used sensitive or confidential data. 64% of these were under legal obligations to keep it secure.
  2. Almost a third of respondents are not currently working on an externally funded project.
  3. Over 60% of respondents had non-electronic research data (lab-books, article notes etc.).
  4. 135 respondents backed up to an External Hard Drive (although more analysis needs to take place to see how many only back up to one device).
  5. 64% shared research data.
  6. 8% had completed a data management plan.
  7. 11% were aware of any requirements of their funder to make their research data available via Open Access.
  8. Nearly 50% said that they would be willing to be contacted for a follow up interview.

These interviews are now taking place. We have already interviewed around 30 researchers and have more in our calendars. These are proving very useful and the engagement of the research community has been encouraging. We could not have accomplished what we have done without their help and support.

I would hope to have a draft of the written report completed by the end of the month so will be able to blog some more in-depth findings then. If anyone has any comments on these initial findings I would be interested to hear them. Are they similar to what other projects are finding?

Posted under Follow the Data, Online survey

This post was written by Gareth Cole on April 2, 2012

Bibliographic software

Further to Rebecca’s post yesterday I would like to provide a link to the blog of another one of our PGR students.

As part of the second workshop with our PGR students which was held a couple of weeks ago I led a discussion on the role of reference managers and what type of training should be given (or is needed) in this area. Endnote is the most common tool used at Exeter although our online survey has shown that it is by no means the only one. Consequently, I gave a, very, brief introduction to Mendeley and what it could do etc. This wasn’t a nuts and bolts session on how to use Mendeley but I used it as an introduction to uncover what our students would want from a reference manager.

Stuart has followed this up with a comparison of Endnote and Mendeley and how they can actually be used in conjunction with each other to improve the management of secondary literature (although of course they are not limited to this). He also lists a few of the pros and cons of each piece of software.

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Gareth Cole on March 16, 2012

Three months in…

As one of the PGR students in this project I’ve learnt a lot about data management since joining Open Exeter.  The first workshop was only three months ago, yet being more aware of how I create and use my data has already helped my project.  I wasn’t given any advice about data management when I started my PhD and the number of files on my computer increased very quickly to become a mass of random folders and strange file names.  I would like to have known more about file naming and organisation before things got out of hand; reorganising everything is now a rather daunting and time consuming prospect, but I’ve learnt about different methods of organisation and file naming conventions that will help.

Talking to the project team and other students has also made me aware of software available to aid data management: dropbox, email filtering, remote desktop access and alternate referencing software.  We have also practised writing data management plans for our projects which raised the issues of confidentiality, back-up, storage and archiving.

Although, as researchers, our work is based on using and creating data, I have rarely taken the time to consider my daily data output.  I think this is something which should be considered at the very being of a piece of work so file organisation, naming, access rights, back-up procedures, methods of sharing, storage and archiving procedures are decided before you begin to generate any data.  A workshop which covered these areas for students at the start of their PhDs would be very useful.  Over the next 3-4 years this could be complemented by other relevant training or open drop-in sessions for students to raise their particular data issues.

Overall, I’m really enjoying being involved in the project.  Not only because of the benefits to my data management skills but also the chance to interact with students from various disciplines and discuss the many types of data we produce.  Before the first workshop I would never have believed the simple question ‘What is data?’ could have been so interesting, but it’s made me view my work in a whole different light.

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Rebecca Claire Hunter on March 15, 2012

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Archiving PGR research data?

As we finish the third week of our investigations into RDM practice around the University, we’re a little surprised by a common factor that is starting to emerge from interviews: concern about what happens to PGRs’ data when they leave the University at the end of their studies.

We had some idea from conversations with PGRs that they themselves have questions about what happens to student data when someone leaves. The most consistent comment is that since there are no policies or guidelines of any sort, data will probably sit on a hard drive or external drive in an office somewhere until either the device fails or no-one can figure out how to access the files again.

For PGRs this is a problem for two main reasons:
• Students would like to receive recognition for their work and feel it is being valued and reused to contribute to building knowledge in their academic field. If the data is more accessible, it will have greater impact and enhance their career development.
• Typically this research data is unavailable for incoming students to build on; they will be aware that the research has taken place but due to the lack of policy on recording and storing PGR data, they (and their supervisors) have no way of locating it.

For researchers, where PGR research has been incorporated into project/research group activities, continuing access to raw data is critical.

Researchers may be aware that previous research is relevant to current students supervised but again, cannot access the original data. This can lead to reduplication of effort.

Additionally, it can be useful to have access to restrictions-free raw data as a tool to teach research skills and methodologies to incoming students.

Until this point, we hadn’t really considered that there might be a role for the project in providing continuing access to PGR data. However, there is clearly a (relatively) quick win opportunity for us here: we already mandate thesis deposit to our research outputs repository, ERIC, which we are looking at integrating with our data archive; we already allow deposit of supplementary files, such as video and audio when they’re an integral part of the thesis. It’s only a comparatively small next step to then permit (or even mandate?) deposit of underlying data. It’s an aim we will certainly incorporate into our scheme of work over the next few months.

Are other projects coming across a similar situation?

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Jill Evans on March 2, 2012

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